Americans have long been fascinated with the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Runners and riders from the continent have marked some of the finest hours of the race’s history. Take Carroll Shelby, AJ Foyt and Jim Hall, for example. They all come from Texas, home to the American leg of the World Endurance Championship since 2013.
Texas, dubbed the ‘Lone Star State, is the only US state to have once been an independent republic (1836-1845) and thus holds a special place in the nation’s history. The racing careers of Texan natives Carroll Shelby, AJ Foyt and Jim Hall are similarly outstanding.
While the first love of Carroll Shelby (1923-2012) was aviation (he was a flying instructor and test pilot during the Second World War), he later turned his attention to motor racing. Partnered by British driver Roy Salvadori, he took the win for Aston Martin at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1959. He brought his driving career to an end a few months after that triumph and founded Shelby American to build high-performance sports cars.
His Cobras became one of the most feared rivals of the Ferrari GTOs at Le Mans (with a class win at the 1964 race). Shelby then took over the Ford racing programme and steered the American firm to its first two Le Mans wins in 1966 and 1967. 1967 was the year that AJ Foyt (1935-) shared the wheel of the victorious Ford Mk IV with teammate Dan Gurney, racing under the Shelby American flag. They also surpassed the 5,000-km mark for the first time in the race’s history that year.
Another big draw at the 1967 race was fielded by American constructor, Jim Hall. Born in 1935, he was an oil tycoon and driver (having competed at Le Mans with fellow American Dan Gurney in a Ferrari in 1963) who started making cars in 1961. His racers were named Chaparral (after a North American roadrunner bird) and with their all-white livery and ground-breaking technology, they certainly stood out on the grid.
Chaparral tackled the Le Mans 24 Hours twice, with the 2D in 1966 and the 2F in 1967. The 2F came with automatic transmission and a high strut-mounted wing spanning the full breadth of the car’s rear. The wing could be adjusted by the driver and was flattened to increase speed on the straights and tilted forwards when braking to increase downforce. In fact, it was something of a forerunner to the DRS currently used to promote overtaking in Formula One!
The two Chaparral 2Fs entered in the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans did not finish the race but later in the season, the prototype won the Brands Hatch 1,000 km with Brit Mike Spence and American Phil Hill at the wheel, the latter’s last international victory before he retired from racing.
Hill’s own story is also very much connected with the history the 24 Hours of Le Mans: find our more in the next instalment!
Other instalments in our Le Mans and America series:
Photo: ACO Archives – Alongside the Ford-Ferrari clash, the Chaparral 2F was one of the big draws at the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans.